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Topic: Jew, Title: Origin, Meaning & Negative Connotation

Wayne Smith in Rocky Mount, NC wrote

Dear Rabbi,

I am a non-Jew who teaches a college course called "An Introduction to Religion." Last week one of my students told me privately that she felt that the word "Jew" as used by me was unacceptable. Although she is not Jewish, she was apparently told this by a Jewish friend. She feels that using the word "Jew" in any context is tantamount to being racist, and that "Jewish" should always be used instead.

My use of the word is always in a neutral, identifying and instructional sense, never derogatory. What is your opinion? Is the word "Jew" ever acceptable? Do Jews prefer to be called Jewish rather than Jew? Would it be politically correct for me to avoid the use of the word Jew?

Dear Wayne Smith,

I personally feel that the word Jew is a compliment. It refers to someone from the Chosen People, the People of Israel. I am proud to be called a Jew.

One of the earliest uses of the word "Jew" is in the Book of Esther in which the hero is referred to as "Moredechai Hayehudi," Mordechai the Jew. (Book of Esther 10:3)

That said, however, it is indeed a fact that in English usage and literature, "Jew" is a "vituperative" insult. This is according the Oxford English Dictionary, considered the foremost authority of the English Language.

Lately, this reference has been omitted from many progressive dictionaries, leaving one to wonder what effect this will have in the face of a thousand years of English usage.

In light of the "tongue-lashing" the word Jew has suffered over the centuries, perhaps your student is right.

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